Twitter has been alive with the sound of mutiny for the last few days, in response to Harper Collins announcing a 26-time lending limit on their eBooks. In case you've not seen this news, the short version is that the (huge) publisher has somewhat shafted libraries by imposing a pretty small limit on the number of times their e-books can be borrowed, before they need to be re-purchased. (A fuller explanation can be read here on LibrarybyDay, including links to a whole bunch of articles on the subject.)
One of the responses to this has been a call to boycott Harper Collins. There is a special website for it and everything. I can see why people are in favour of this, and it's nice to see some aggression from the library community in the face of a threat. However, this boycott fails on two fundamental levels, in my opinion:
ONE: the stick you are trying to beat the publisher with is not big enough. They can get by despite a library boycott.
TWO: there is no point in protesting about / boycotting ANYTHING unless you are presenting a viable alternative. (Student fee protesters take note.)
This excellent post by Sarah Glassmeyer does the maths and concludes that libraries simply don't make up enough of publisher's revenues for a boycott (which would only ever be partial if it happened in earnest at all) to be a game changer. There is no point in starting a fight if you don't have a chance of winning the fight - you'll end up bloodied, or having to back down.
And as for point two, there is no way Harper Collins would do this without giving it some serious, long, hard, thought. They would also have anticipated an angry reaction from the library industry - and they have gone ahead anyway. Therefore, what are the chances of them caving in because of librarians protesting now? I think you have to put a viable compromise on the table to be taken seriously, not just lash out because it's unfair. The library industry is acting like a wounded animal, when cooler heads are called for. Where is the alternative model for Harper Collins to consider?
Other things that spring to mind about the boycott idea:
- It doesn't make the library industry look too good
- As many others have said, you've got more chance of making change happen from the inside than from the outside
- We've been screwed by publishers for years (I used to work in e-Resources, trust me) so why particularly call for collective action now? What do we do if the other publishers fall into line - boycott all of them? We have a duty to our own customers to actually provide them with stuff
- Yet again, we are an industry divided. We need to be on the same page to move forward! But I realise that is very hard to achieve.
Just my opinion.